Learn to say “YES”

This is Mark Johnson’s Advanced Photojournalism Class at UGA’s Grady School of Journalism. [Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.2, 1/80]
For the past ten years or so Mark Johnson has invited me to speak to his advanced Photojournalism Class at UGA on business practices.

One of the tips I always share with the class is Learn To Say YES.

I learned about how to say yes from my friend Tony Messano who is a creative director as well as voice over talent. This one tip had a major impact on my life in so many ways.

Tony was not advocating becoming a “Yes Man” where you are agreeing to “anything” regardless of how crazy or stupid – and sometimes illegal – it is. You still will say no to things that ethically you disagree with doing.

Patrick Murphy-Racey keeps things positive for his clients by solving their problems rather than becoming a problem. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm ƒ/4, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/160]
Tony was advocating that we turn ourselves into problem solvers for our clients and bosses, rather than becoming a problem.

The way this whole topic came up in the first place with Tony was over me trying to deal with clients that kept on saying since you are here can you do _______. Tony helped me to see how to take this request and not only meet the request but make more money.

I learned how to price for the project and then when this type of request came up I could say “Yes”. Yes I can make that happen, however since this wasn’t part of the proposal and is outside the scope of it I just need to charge XYZ for the additional work.

The way I had been handling these requests or similar variations for my whole life up to then was responding with a “NO”.

What Tony helped me to understand was that when I was saying no I wasn’t really helping the client at all. If they still needed it done then they would find someone who could make it happen and often then I would no longer be used for future projects.

Why do I want to say no?

Before I could say yes I learned I needed to know why I wanted to say no.

When I was in a staff job I often said no because I didn’t have time with all the other things on my plate. As a freelancer I was saying no because they were asking for more without offering more pay.

Had I learned this tip earlier in my career I would have become a more valuable team member. When someone would ask me to do something I would now be saying how I really want to help them. I would be saying YES–IF.

Yes I can make that happen for you if you can tell me which of these other projects I can delay or not do to be able to take on this extra work.

As a freelancer I am saying YES–IF you decide what on the list we were shooting comes off because I don’t have time to do all you have or I might be saying yes if you agree to the extra XYZ cost.

On the far right at the computer is Akili Ramsess, executive director for NPPA, who is reviewing the work on a student at the Southwestern Photojournalism Student Workshop. What I like here is not just that Akili is helping and the student is engaged, but it reminds me that others are watching us help.

Let the client say NO

Tony said my goal is to say yes as much as I can and to be sure the client is the one saying no and not me.

As the freelancer the client asks me to do something and my response is I would love to help you. The additional cost to make this happen is XYZ. Just sign right here to the changes on the contract and I will make it happen.

The client will then respond by great or no we cannot afford to do that. If they really have to have this done then you are not the reason it gets done, they don’t have the resources to make it happen or maybe the request then no longer important.

As a staff person I am not asking for more money. I am basically taking the burden of what is on my plate and the difficulties to make it happen back onto their plate.

My boss asks me to take photos of their event and in the past I would have said no I am already booked. I now say I am already covering another event at the same time. I am more than willing to cover this event if you need me to. Which event do you want me to cover and would you like me to get another photographer to cover the event I cannot cover?

Seeing this photo of my daughter with Bell from Beauty and the Beast reminds me of how the Beast had to change and learn to love. The latest movie really gives us the back story of how self centered the man was and why he was turned into a Beast. He said no to the old lady rather than helping her.

Saying No makes you a problem–Saying Yes Makes you a problem solver.

Every time you say no the person requesting your help will now have to find someone else. Had you said yes their problem is solved.

Today when I get a request for something and I am already booked, I always offer to find someone for them. One of the best ways to keep those clients coming back is to handle the booking of the photographer and have the photographer work as a subcontractor for you. This way they show up shoot the project and you handle the billing. This way they continue to come back to you.

Another tip I share with the students is about how to network. I tell them to act like a freshman and not a senior. Here is a previous blog post that I did explaining this tip for you.


A side note about speaking to the class is I get to spend time with Mark Johnson. Every time I go I have lunch with Mark and each time I learn so much.

This time I listened and watched how Mark works really hard to present content to the students in a positive manner. He doesn’t speak down to the students. He challenges them in a way that he is also communicating that he know they are able to do whatever he is asking of them.

It is a joy to visit UGA and spend time with the students and Mark.

Business Tips from Truett Cathy for Photographers

Truett Cathy promoting his book “How did you do it, Truett?”

Shortly after making this photo of Truett Cathy I was asked to be on retainer for Chick-fil-A. For the past eleven years I have had the privilege to work with such a wonderful organization.

I have learned a great deal from Truett Cathy and here are some of those tips for you.

Truett Cathy the founder of Chick-fil-A had a Bible verse he used as a compass for his life.

Proverbs 22:1 — “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches and loving favor than silver and gold.” [King James Version (KJV)]

Here is a more modern translation from The Voice that I prefer, “A good reputation is preferable to riches, and the approval of others is better than precious silver or gold.”

Every time I was around Truett I was inspired and entertained. He loved to have fun as hard as he worked.

Here are some quotes from Truett that I think every business person should adopt and would make them more successful.

“Fall in love with your work and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

Truett would follow up this comment with if you are not having fun then you are not doing something right.

One of the keys to understanding this principle is learning the difference between GIVING and GETTING.

Too many people are focused on themselves. Its not all about you. Once you understand this it is easier to experience the joy of life.

“My riches are my family and my foster children. I try to store any material wealth in my hand, not my heart, so that I always feel free to give it away when the opportunity rises.” 

Being around Truett you see that he was very frugal and when he did spend money he was often getting a great deal. I heard more stories about a great deal Truett would get and I was always impressed.

“Nearly every moment of every day we have the opportunity to give something to someone else—our time, our love, our resources. I have always found more joy in giving when I did not expect anything in return.”

No strings attached was the way Truett operated. He was the first to put a restaurant into a mall and to get people aware of his Chick-fil-A sandwich he gave away free samples.

If you met Truett you most likely were give a BOG—Be Our Guest card. All you had to do is go to a Chick-fil-A restaurant and give them the card and they gave you a sandwich. You don’t have to buy anything to get it.

“My business grew on my understanding that customers are always looking for somebody who is dependable and polite and will take care of them.”

Everyday Chick-fil-a is checking to see that their standards for food preparation are at the highest they can be. They hire consultants to come into their restaurants and measure the operational side of the business. They look for ways to improve the experience for the customer and cut waste.

Chick-fil-A has a training program that helps not just train but retrain everyone to keep the customer always first.

“Many of the unexpected opportunities we encounter are small but significant.”

Words are carefully analyzed so that the customer feels appreciated. Truett Cathy trained the entire workforce that when someone says thank you the proper response is “My Pleasure.” I learned more about this little phrase through the years.

You see many people respond with “No Problem” when they are thanked. I was taught that “No Problem” communicates that this is not my job but I did it anyway. However, the phrase “My Pleasure” communicates that it is my job and I love to help you.

“Looking back I can see that I had been preparing for twenty-one years to open the first Chick-fil-A restaurant.”

Truett started the Dwarf House in Hapeville, GA back in 1946. He expanded to two restaurants, but one day the second one burned down. He started the restaurant with his brother Ben, but two years into their business Ben died in a plane crash.

Later the original Dwarf House had a fire and over the weekend Truett made all the repairs and kept on going.

“Sometimes success is disguised as hard work.”

As you can see there were many opportunities for Truett to give up and do something else.
Many of my photographer colleagues are going through some tough times. Other than winning the lottery the only other way for success is hard work.
“One of the most meaningful truisms I have learned about leadership is that it’s all about action.”

I have talked to many photographers who are struggling and the most common thing I hear from them is I know what I should do, I just don’t get around to doing it.

Truett learned his work ethic from his mother. Truett was moved to tears during an interview. The person interviewing Truett asked if he was OK. Truett said he just realized that the only time he ever saw his mother’s eyes closed was when she was in the coffin.

While Truett worked very hard he also will most likely be remembered for the blue signs for Chick-fil-A on the highways which also say, “Closed on Sunday.”

“Businesses are not dishonest or greedy, people are. Thus, a business, successful or not, is merely a reflection of the character of its leadership.”

Years ago one magazine wrote about the success of Chick-fil-A making about 1.5 Billion that year. They said that being closed on Sunday left half a billion dollars on the table. When someone asked Truett about it, he disagreed.

Truett believed by giving all his employees one day a week off that they worked harder those six days. The restaurants that never close drain their employees. They need a day of rest to be with their families and go to church if they choose.

“Why would I retire from something I enjoy doing? I can hardly wait to get here.”

Truett was in his forties when he invented the Chicken Sandwich. He was 46 when the first Chick-fil-A restaurant open in Greenbriar Mall.

Truett was 52, the same age I am, when he started Team Member Scholarship Program and was 63 when he started the WinShape foundation.

At the age of 92 Truett was still working and open Truett’s Luau in Fayetteville, GA. A new menu, a new concept and new restaurant was what he created.

Truett passed the baton to his son Dan when Truett was 92 years old. This past Monday Truett Cathy passed away at the age of 93.

Here are a few more quotes for you from Truett:

Like wealth, poverty also has the power to build us up and make us appreciate what we have, or it can break our spirits. 

By ‘staying small,’ we also remain sensitive to the needs of others around us. 

As long as you are being kind to your customers why not be kind to each other. 

I realized the importance of doing a job and doing it right. Pleasing your customers and enjoying what you’re doing. 

I worked hard for a C, but I had to work… I find that most successful people are C students. 

I say the world is ruled by C students cause I was in that category, I didn’t get to go to college, because I was drafted when I finished, soon after I finished high school. 

More tips from Truett

Eleven Dos and Don’ts of Proven Entrepreneurial Success by S. Truett Cathy

Freelance Professional Photographers: Your Spouse is THE KEY to success

My parents David and Bonita when they were dating

Growing up I watched how both of my parents supported one another. We hear a lot about children do better when raised in a two parent home.

Children raised in intact married families:

  • are more likely to attend college
  • are physically and emotionally healthier
  • are less likely to be physically or sexually abused
  • are less likely to use drugs or alcohol and to commit delinquent behaviors
  • have a decreased risk of divorcing when they get married
  • are less likely to become pregnant/impregnate someone as a teenager
Your business is like a child
So just like children who benefit from a loving two parent home so too will your business flourish when your spouse is supportive of your business.
If you came to me about becoming a freelancer, one of the first questions I would ask you “Is your spouse supportive what you’re about to do?”
My biggest cheerleader and support is my wife Dorie. 
The difference between a supportive spouse and one that is questioning you all the time as you are trying to make business decisions can cost you your business.
Dorie’s father was an entrepreneur and she is very comfortable with this role. Not everyone grows up in the family of an entrepreneur. There is a huge difference in how your household life will be day to day when you have an employer verses you running your own business.
All the books on parenting emphasize the importance of the two parents being on the same game plan when it comes to raising your children. You learn to support the other parents decision even if you disagree.
If you disagree you talk about it and then the next time something comes up again, the game plan may be different, but that is because you discussed it.
There is very little good that comes from disagreeing with another parent’s decision in front of a child. It is not that this should never happen, but that you understand the consequences of this disagreement when the other spouse made a decision when you were not there.
It’s a Two Way Street
There is a Bible verse that I think every couple and friendship needs to know. It is Romans 12:10 “love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”
Whatever your spouse feels passionate about is something they need support doing. Dorie has a calling to help journalist. Here is an article on her ministry to journalists.
Click here to read the article
Dorie also has a passion for helping the parents of The Citadel. She knows from first hand experience that parents need more information on how they can support their child. She has created a blog to help those parents.
Click here to go to Dorie’s blog
Earning Support
You cannot go to your spouse and say I need you to support me and immediately get that support. I can tell you a secret on how you get it—Give It!
Here are some ways that you can first be supportive of your spouse:
  • Respect your spouse’s personal/business decisions
  • Demonstrate you have faith in them
  • Give them your shoulder on those days when they have a sinking feeling
  • Work with your spouse on balance
  • Celebrate your spouses successes
  • Don’t try and Fix-it [As a male I struggle with not trying to jump in and fix things]
  • Listen well
  • Be Truthful, Genuine and Credible with your encouragement. Don’t embellish your comments of support.
Dorie has done an incredible job of making me feel like I can be a successful photographer. This has been the most important key to the success of my business.
No Spouse
If you are not married and not even dating you still will need some support from a community. I would encourage you to have a good friend that can help with some of the support that married people get from one another. You just need some support or you will find it more stressful than it should be.
The Foundation
When we think of building we start with a foundation. There are two types of building foundations: shallow and deep foundations.
Both of them are there to create the support that creates a firm support for the rest of the building.
I would argue that the foundation that I have built my business on is made up of two components. First is my faith in God and the second is my spouse. Together the two of these have interlocked to give the business what it has needed to grow.
On top of the foundation you need to have solid business practices and a portfolio that will invite clients to want to work with you.
Supportive Discouragement
If your spouse has some weaknesses that you think will lead to disaster, encourage them to either go take classes to learn more about this or maybe they need to outsource that area of the business. Maybe you as the spouse may want to take on helping them because this might be something you are skilled in.
Don’t tell them they are going to fail. Tell them how they will be successful as long as they address what you think might be holding them back.
Seek out wisdom
The best time to seek out the wisdom of others is before you start your business and not after. Start with your spouse talking about your dream. Find a good mentor/coach and remember to listen. If you are finding little or no support, this is a good sign that you need to assess your friends and spouses concerns.
Be a good parent as well
Our daughter Chelle
I am very proud of my daughter and love to talk about all she does to anyone who will listen. She loves the theater and while most parents are telling their children how difficult it is to be successful, we encourage our daughter. Sure we don’t sugar coat it, but we took her to Hollywood to see behind the scenes and see all the careers that are creative.

Encourage people to pursue their dreams. Remember that often the chasing of the dream leads to a very successful career and not always exactly as they dreamed. However, it was the chasing that gets them to where they will be successful.

During the Emmy Awards Monday night Jim Parson’s thank you reminded me of how important support is in our success. 

Jim Parsons won his fourth Emmy for his work on The Big Bang Theory. Parsons took the opportunity to thank his father in his speech. Mickey Parsons, he said, died before all of the craziness attached to Big Bang Theory began. He thanked his father for supporting him.
“He encouraged me to be an actor. He never discouraged me to be an actor, and in a career that hinges so much on confidence a lot of the time, that was a really great gift,” Parsons said.
I highlighted the part, because it is just as applicable to any of us. Support builds confidence.

How to take photos and never need a model release

Nature Photography

Become a nature photographer and you can publish your work. As long as you don’t photograph people or private property you can take pictures and publish them without any problems.

I guess this is why so many people like photographing our national parks. If you however, photograph someone’s property then you cannot publish this without his or her written consent in the form of a property release.

If you photograph a private ranch for instance with a barn on it, that property owner can come after you for publishing photos of their property.

News Photography

Become a news photographer and not only get your work published you can also get a byline. The First Amendment protects your right to take photos and publish them.

The First Amendment contradicts people’s right to privacy if you are in a public space for news reporting and social, political and economic commentary. Basically as long as the photographer is standing in a public space then anything they can see from that spot is legally protected to photograph for news reporting purposes.

This is how the paparazzi get photos of celebrities and not break the law. If they are on a mountain road overlooking a celebrities backyard and they shoot with a long lens it is OK to do.  Same with being in a helicopter since the airspace is legal as well.

If you want to photograph people and do so without getting model releases you can work for one of these news outlets because you are working for the greater good of society.

The greater good is really more about taking photos of things we need to know to make our communities safer or we need to know about to protect our rights from those who are trying to take those away. So photos of traffic accidents help the community put up traffic lights at intersections which reporting has shown to be dangerous.

Photographs showing companies’ polluting our streams or illegal dumping that is documented have held them accountable. Just think of the reporting of the Exxon Valdese and BP’s oilrig in the gulf that polluted our water.

You don’t publish your photos

If you never publish your photos in print or on the web, but just take them and leave them on your computer for example, then you don’t need a release. Basically you are not using them in a way that impacts the subjects or property.

How it is used is the issue

So to summarize you taking the picture isn’t the issue for needing of a property release or model release, it is how you use the photo that determines the need for a release.

One simple way to think of it if you publish a photograph for trade or commercial purposes you always need a release to protect you from a lawsuit.

When You Need A Release

Hopefully you see if you want your photos seen you most likely need a release. This is an earlier post I did that will help you always have a model/property release with you at all times.


Pricing Tip for Estimates


I am often getting phone calls from photographers about how to price a stock sale or assignment.


No matter what you are quoting on I recommend giving the buyer a choice.

I like to think of this as a low, medium and high price.

When you order a drink like coffee usually they give you 3 choices: small, medium and large.  Using this as your model always try and give the customer up front three choices for your prices.


Well the way you price will help setup how you negotiate later.

In stock photography you are negotiating how much the photo is used and for how long. By giving them three options you have set some parameters from how you like to price.

In assignment work you are quoting on things like number of photos, when they get the photos, how you deliver them and more.

If you just give them one price you are communicating more of a take it or leave it even if you didn’t mean that at all. When you give options people see you as flexible and may even ask for more flexibility.

If you offer three choices and the other bidder gives only one you can see how you just gave them 3 bids to the guys one and maybe you get the job just due to having an option they can go with without going back and forth.

Too Much

If you are not careful you can overwhelm people with too much information. Keep the options simple rather than complex. Sure if you tell them more they have even more options, but they show more than about 5 or 6 options actually works against you.


How much should I charge?

It is quite common for a professional photographer to get a call asking to use a photo and the photographer doesn’t know how to give a quote for the usage.

Understanding Copyright

First let me start with understanding of copyright. It is safe to say that unless you have permission from a photographer to use a photo you cannot use it without opening yourself up to copyright infringement.

If a photo qualifies in Public Domain then you can use it.  Accurate photographs of two-dimensional visual artworks lack expressive content and are automatically in the public domain once the painting’s copyright has expired (which it has in the US if it was published before 1923).

There is also the category of Creative Commons License. Here the photographer has given permission for use of their images for non-commercial use. What is considered “non-commercial” is debated. To be sure you are OK clarifying before using would be a good idea.

If you are searching Flickr just look on the side navigation with all the tag and group information, it’s listed in that area with a link to what kind of license it is.

The other category is called Fair Use which can allow for use of images without compensation. My interpretation and I am not a lawyer, but if you are a student and working on a project for a class you can use images. However, if that student publishes those say on the internet could be a violation of copyright. When teachers start using the material it becomes a problem once they publish and distribute the material. Showing a news clip for a class to discuss would most likely fall under Fair Use.

When in doubt get the photographer’s permission.

The Phone Call

I have gotten numerous phone calls from colleagues on quoting on some of the strangest uses. My first place to look for starting is the software FotoQuote. It sells for $149.99 and most everyone I know that buys it usually recovers their money in the first few times they use it.

FotoQuote has over 300 stock photo pricing categories and a wealth of coach information.

Often clients are asking for a variety of uses and FotoQuote lets you even create “Quote Packs.” This is where you might include all advertising uses and exclude editorial. Just remember there are over 300 categories alone in this software package of categories.

Besides what category you are also giving permission for how big the image will be used. For example is it the main part of an ad or just a spec? Will they use your photo for the cover or just a thumbnail head shot with an article?

How often they use the image makes a difference as well. If they are publishing only 300 brochures for a meeting verses a print run of 5 million should be priced differently.

How long they get to use the image is also another variable. Will they use the photo one time, one month, one year, multiple years or unlimited should impact your price.

The first few times I was quoting on large projects I could feel the sweat on my forehead and my heart racing. I was having a panic attack.

Guidelines for quoting

Here are my tips for quoting on a usage. We need to first start with your base. If this is an assignment the basic price should be about the same for similar assignment, the differences in price are for the use. So, an executive portrait for a print on the wall in the companies headquarters verses it being use on billboards and running on the cover of Forbes Magazine will change the price, due to usage.

  1. Always ask what their budget is for the project up front. Sometimes they will give you a better deal than you would have asked.
  2. Be prepared to negotiate. Your first quote will often be countered. Therefore it is better to quote a little higher and have room to drop your price.
  3. Whenever you change your price you should change the usage terms.
  4. To speed the process along, I recommend going to a client with three prices. Your rock bottom price, middle range price and the high end price. This makes them see you as already trying to work with their budget. 

 Creative Fee and Usage Fee

When quoting on an assignment separating the creative fee and usage fee is a good idea. In addition to the creative fee you might have expenses as well listed.

I would suggest trying your best to encourage the client pay for as much usage up front. To help encourage them it would be great to list usage fees for future purchases.  I would probably state the time these prices will still be good as well.

For example you might allow them for an unlimited usage right now for $10,000. If they come back to you later that price should be much higher.  By putting this in writing and up front with the client you are showing them you are being transparent and trying to work with them.


One category in the FotoQuote database I find helpful is the going rates that are known for different publications. Many of the magazines listed will even let you know the rights and there going rates.  Basically they set the price and you decide to except their terms or not. Sometimes you might be able to get a better rate if you have a specialty or the only one with access to the subject.

I think of using FotoQuote like a pilot does when they are flying in the clouds, they are using the instrument panel to help guide them.

Remember FotoQuote is a guide and not prices fixed by the industry. These give you some starting points to help you negotiate.

Just as important as FotoQuote are other photographers. This is why I joined American Society of Media Photographers [ASMP]. I can pick up the phone and ask other members their advice. Often some of them have more experience than I. I am not calling for prices as much as also how to communicate with clients. Often how you word something can make a huge difference.

Freelance Advice: Easier to get a job with a job

I had to share these photos of the eight point buck that was in our backyard in Roswell, GA. [Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 1250, ƒ/5.6, & 1/2000]

The old cliché “It is easier to get a job when you have a job” is like the other cliché “It is easier to get a loan when you don’t need one.”

If you are unhappy in a job there is a good chance that those around you and even your boss will notice this attitude. Once you assess your situation and eliminate the unpleasant requirements of almost any job, you may need to find a new job or even career.

Many people will plan their exit strategy. If it is a career change you may need to go to school and maybe you can do this nights or even online. If it is just the wrong workplace and not a career change then you can start right away.

[Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 1000, ƒ/5.6, & 1/2000]

It is better to be proactive than to be fired, because explaining the reason you need a job to a new employer because you lost your job is a red flag.

If you see the business struggling it is better to get out of there before you are laid off for similar reason.

The freelancer also needs to be aware that showing current project work is equivalent to having a job.

Another reason people leave companies is to increase their income. Other companies would love to hire someone away from another company that helped improve the company’s bottom line. Come and help us do what you did for your previous employer. Often this will be for better pay.

After helping the new company you may pick up a few more skills that another company will again lure you to them because of your high performance.

The Citadel playing North Georgia College in Rugby. [Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 900, ƒ/5.6, & 1/2000]


The freelancer’s best way to get a great gig is through the self-assignment. Just like it is easier to get a job with a job.

If you are a truly creative person you will have many ideas that you cannot get companies to buy into.

I have a theory about this problem of good idea and no companies wanting to do it. The lack of an example is why most companies do not take on these great ideas.

The self-assignment allows you the flexibility to do a job the best way you know how. To execute that idea as best you can without interference from a client. This way you have the best example possible.

Roswell Presbyterian Church middle school mission trip to Chattanooga, TN where they are helping widows with their homes. [Nikon D3s, 14-24mm, ISO 200, ƒ/3.2, 1/1250]

I have done self-assignments for my church and denomination.  One of the first things I needed for my proof of concept was access to people and places. I wanted to show that telling people’s stories using still images, video and audio together is one of the most powerful ways to communicate.

I also know that most of the stories I have done in the past for churches had emotional hooks and were not just dry factual events.

Every year I still will take some time and cover something our church is doing. This helps keep my storytelling skills sharp. I enjoy doing it because they are not paying me and therefore no one is really able to tell me what to do. I am pretty much my own client. By giving them the package to use at the end they are thrilled. Next time I show an interest in helping I get even more access and help.

After getting the final package finalized I am now able to shop around with my concept with an example.

You can do a soft sell where you send the package in an email to potential clients. You are sharing it as entertainment.  “Take a look at what my daughter did this summer with her youth group helping widows in Chattanooga,” might be what I say to them. The clients you have to enjoy seeing what you are doing. In the process they may warm up to the concept and hire you to shoot something similar for them.

There are a couple of ways to do self-assignments. You can take on a larger project that you can work on over and over until it is just right or you can take on smaller projects and just do more of them.

Refining process

One of the best things you can do for a self-assignment is to show work that is portfolio worthy. This is where it has a WOW factor. To achieve this level it may be necessary to do like they do in Hollywood for movies—many takes.

You may show up one day to work on your project and just take a point and shoot to make visual notes. You will notice what works and what needs some help. For what I do this may mean realizing the light in the room is better in the morning than the afternoon or that I need to bring some lights to light the room.

I would then take these visual notes and use them to help me storyboard the concept. After talking to people and working with their schedules I would then setup the times to start shooting. After each step I would come back to the storyboard and see how it is going.

Often what the storyboard I started with will in no way resemble the end product. I will have discovered a better storyline than what I started with and therefore I make adjustments and let the story lead me rather than me forcing my concept on the situation. [This is very important to me when I later help sell to clients. I tell them what I started with and how I changed it to make it better.]


When I have finished the package and start sharing it, I will also blog about the process.  I may have been blogging all along. I want to tell the behind the scene story because this is what helps clients and potential clients see me as an expert.

Here is an example of a finished project I did for Chick-fil-A where they gave out sandwiches to first responders and victims of Hurricane Sandy.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxDdW7HwJQ4]

Take it slow with the self-assignment

Musicians work on difficult passage of music by slowing it down to work on playing the notes and getting the rhythm just right. Once they have that then they work on the interpretation to give it that swing, funk or melodic feel.

The top musicians are paid really well because when they see the music for the first time they do not need to practice it a few times before playing it. The reason for this is they practice for the most part 8 to 10 hours a day working on music of all styles. This means when they see a difficult passage they have already played something similar recently and are able to execute on the fly.

My mentor, Don Rutledge, was always finding stories and going and doing them all by himself. He would: find the story; write the story; and photograph the story and then send it out for syndication. Most other photographers I knew seldom picked up their cameras like Don when they were not on assignment.

One day I asked Don why he did these self-assignments. He explained how he could slow down and take his time when doing them. He could visit longer with the subjects and do everything on his time and not have a deadline speeding him up.

I remember a few times where Don would have started a story and then decide to go back another day to do more work on it.

Don said that slowing down and shooting stories like this on his own made it possible for him to shoot better for his clients when they hired him. Like the studio musicians of Hollywood Don’s self-assignments were his practice times.  One you do something over and over you are able to start to see the nuances and it is the nuances that separate your work from the pack.

Your best and worst client

I believe the best client you could ever work for is yourself. Take on a self-assignment that will get you out of the bed and fired up to do some work today. For me I look for a project that will help an organization improve people’s lives.

The worst client I have is I. I am rarely ever satisfied with my work. I could always do something to make it better. What I still get upset about is something not working out the way I wanted and I am unable to go back and do it the way I wished I had in the first place.  This is why for most everything I do I would love a second chance to do it again and better.  If it were not for deadlines and budgets I am not sure I would finish projects. I am too much of a perfectionist.


Today many of the projects I want to work on require collaboration. I have had people help with voice over work, help get me places and introduce me to people.

Maybe you have a self-assignment that you need some help with. Have you thought of asking me to collaborate? Give me a shout and let me know your passion and maybe I can work with you.

Did I tell you what I love doing the most? I love helping people realize their dreams.

Seven Reasons Not to Become a Freelance Professional Photographer

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 400, ƒ/6.3, 1/100–4 Alienbee B1600s hung in the ceiling on 1/4 power and barebulb

7) Not a self-starter—In your first year or so you will be getting up with no photo shoots on your schedule. You must be able to fill your day with something that will be productive. If you are someone that takes initiative and rarely needs someone to tell you what you should be doing at work, then you might make it as a professional photographer.

6) Procrastinator—You may know what you need to do each day, but you can easily get distracted and not stay on task. If you have seen the movie “UP” then you will recognize the comment—Squirrel.  I know a good number of former photographers who just didn’t get around to doing what they should have been working on and now they are no longer working professional photographers.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/2.8, 1/100–Marc Broussard

5) Hate rejection—If you get easily discouraged then you do not want to go into business for yourself—in any field. Just because your family and friends think you are a great photographer is not the same as everyone lining up to pay you to take photos. If you have people lining up and begging you to shoot things for money—then this is way different and makes you the only person I know to be in that situation. Successful photographers are only selling to 5 – 10% of those people they have contacted. 90 – 95% of the time they are rejected.

4) Poor Negotiator—For the most part photography is not so cookie cutter. This is very true for the commercial photographer. Each job is different from the rest and requires you to price differently. Due to this there tends to be a lot of negotiating with clients. Sometimes this may sound harsh when someone is trying to get you to lower your price.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM S, 2X, ISO 10000, ƒ/4, 1/2000

3) Do not like taking direction—many “artists” tend to think they know better what they need to create. Unless you are going to be a “fine art photographer” then you will need to execute other people’s ideas. You will need to learn how to bend to keep a client and get paid.

2) Do not like sitting at a computer for long periods—You will need to spend time editing your work for sure, but you will spend a lot of time connecting with people through emails, website, blogs, creating printed materials and searching the web for clients to name just a few of the things you will need to be doing on a computer.

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 200, ƒ/1.4, 1/80

1) No business skills—You need to understand pricing of your services that will help you make a profit for the long haul is not easy to do. You also have to be a risk taker in running your own business. Almost nothing is a sure bet and you will have to put money behind ideas that may or may not work. You also need to know how to market yourself to the world.

Now you don’t have to be good at all these things, but they all must be done to remain a professional photographer. You can outsource some of these, but the outsourcing will cost more than if you did them yourself. At a certain point in your growth of your brand you will find it necessary to outsource some of this to grow your business.

You might think of more things to add to this list–but freelancing full-time is not for the faint of heart.

Business Tip: The Piggyback Assignment

Liliuokalani Park in Hilo, Hawaii located on Banyon drive.

One of the best ways to get a job is to have a job. We have heard this comment made to people looking for jobs or career change.

Some reasons for this being said so often:

•    It’s a lot easier to explain why you want a better job than why you were fired from your last one.
•    You are already plugged in
•    They say that a friend in need is a friend to avoid.
•    You are already battle tested. Someone else’s already taken the risk and keeping you

For the freelancer having a job where you need to travel is a great time to Piggyback assignments. In essence you are just like the employed person looking for another job.

When a client is sending you around the country or globe the best thing you can do is to now leverage this into more assignments on the road.

There are some obvious reasons and not so obvious reasons to always try and piggyback assignments. 

•    Saving clients on travel expenses.
•    Great way to show to your present clients and potential clients that other clients use your services
•    You are not a needy photographer
•    Shows you are thinking of them

Stanley at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
You may think of more reasons this could be a positive in your column with clients and potential clients. The key is to remember to reach out to your clients and let them know they have an opportunity to save on their budget and maybe there were some photos they would like but didn’t pursue because of the travel expenses.

You need to have a good database of clients to send these requests to and then you can make the most of an opportunity.

How many times does this turn into an assignment—well not that often. But it only takes one time here and there for the payoff to make it worth it.

This is also not just about getting a Piggyback Assignment. This is also another way to market you. Just think of this as another legitimate reason to contact a client that they will not see as SPAM or an annoying phone call.

Mix this in with your snail mail promotions, blogs, eNewsletters and phone calls. You now have one more way to reach out to your clients that will be perceived as a positive from their perspective.

A little secret I learned from my friend Ken Touchton. When you have nothing going on you can always use the Piggyback Assignment on top of your own personal trip. This is great to do if you know there is work in an area where the client is not willing to spend money on travel but you want the work anyway. This way a client will not know if you lowered your rates to get some jobs. Also, once one client gives you the assignment you only need one more in most cases to do really well.

Business: Jot or Tittle assignment details

A tittle is a small distinguishing mark, such as a diacritic or the dot on a lowercase i or j.

If you leave out a dot or tittle you can screw things up. This has been true since biblical times and now with computers it is just as true.

Today you hear on the radio and TV the announcer saying you can find such and such business at www dot and then they give you the rest of the address. Sometimes there are many dots in that url address. You miss just one or add one too many and you get error messages.

Read the instructions

So you are really gifted and can put together anything on Christmas morning under the tree without reading the instructions.  Good for you. However, assembling something and shooting an assignment for a client is not the same thing. You forget to read the instructions sent by the client and you could be creating a mess for your client.

You may want to know why some clients send very detailed explanations. Just hire photographers for projects around the country and you will soon discover how many photographers cannot follow instructions.

Lets say you have dyslexia or just some other learning disability making this a struggle for you. This is where you must be proactive with the client.

If the client has a specific uploading site they want you to put your photos–ask them for a dry run. With computers you can save all those settings in most software so when you finish shooting an assignment you know you will deliver the photos.

Go through the instructions one by one and be sure you understand the instructions as the client wants you to understand them. This means read each detail and if it could be interpreted a couple of ways or you are not sure what they are asking then call them or email them with your clarification questions.

Sometimes the instructions are wrong

I have had numerous assignments where the client is still using the same set of instructions from 20 years ago. If you don’t believe me just look at some of the listings in Photographer’s Market. They still want you to shoot film and when you contact them to check on that they say no we haven’t done that in years.

I had one client who wanted the highest resolution images and then so many I was shocked when they requested them all as TIFF files. It was going to take a few hours with a high speed connection to upload them. They were still dealing with lower resolution cameras and files that were quite small.  With my camera now we are taking about a 50 meg TIFF file for each photo.  Send a few hundred and you will not being going anywhere soon.

Stanley’s Tips for the freelancer

  • Always ask them to send their request in writing–preferably an email is how i like to receive them.
  • Always have in writing what you are providing the client for the assignment. The best thing is to have a contract spelling this out. It protects both the photographer and the client. 
  • Spell out when payment is expected and deliverable is expected.
  • Review all instructions and ask clarifying questions. This doesn’t make you look like you don’t know what you are doing, but often helps to know you are paying attention to their details.
  • If you need to send them files electronically clarify how this will be done. Do they have an ftp server or do you need to provide that.
  • Do a test run with one image to be sure they get it and it is like they like it.
  • If your project has multiple days of shooting, try and give your client some images as soon as possible to be sure you and they are on the same page. Much better than shooting on and on only to find out you were not on track and they will not be paying you.
  • Many clients today may have file naming protocols due to their database system. With software like PhotoMechanic and Adobe Lightroom you can easily rename your images for them and then keep your own system.
  • Metadata is important for you and the client. If the client doesn’t need any metadata you still should be putting your © information on every photo. Be sure you put something in the caption and keywords so you can search for the image.  Both the PC and Macs will search the metadata and find it for you.
  • Keep receipts and scan these and attach them to your invoice. I prefer sending a PDF with all the receipts attached in the PDF as extra pages. I also attach each receipt to the ledger in Quicken Home and Business. So if it was a VISA, AMEX or Check the receipt is scanned and attached to that transaction.  Helps for taxes later.
  • Always send a W-9 with your first job with a client. My W-9 is a PDF that I attach to the email which also has the invoice.
  • When you send an email letting them know you have sent everything to them you can attach your invoice and W-9 to this email or ask them to see if everything is OK that is delivered and then once they respond then send your Invoice then in response. This gives you two things. First you have them acknowledging everything is acceptable and they have the bill. I usually send the invoice and W-9 and ask if everything is acceptable and then I have acceptance and acknowledgment that they recieved my invoice and W-9.

You may have great photos on your camera, but you must get them off the camera and to the client. The speed and accuracy of doing this will win you a client for life. Believe me you would be surprised how many photographers do not follow through on all the instructions given to them by the client.

Those photographers who clearly follow directions make the life for the client so much better.

One agency I do work for confided in me about they have staff photographers that have never completed a project yet. A typical assignment for this agency is to take just a few of the images from a shoot and send them with a press release. The rest of the project goes into their database from the shoot to be used in their stock file system.

The staff photographer had always sent just a few images from their world travel.  Yes this photographer was being sent around the world.

The agency was always in need of their stock images for more than those press releases.

By the way even when the photos were sent they were never captioned and key worded correctly.

Needless to say the photographer lost their job.  They didn’t loose their job because they didn’t shoot good images–they failed to follow through.

You want to be successful–Big Clue is to follow the directions of the client.